In which parts did Freud divide the human personality?

Freud described the human personality as being divided in three major parts.
These are:

  • The id
    The part of personality containing the libido
    The basic part of personality and is present at birth
    Basically operates on the pleasure principle
  • The ego
    The part of the personality that helps the person have realistic, rational interactions
    Operates on the reality principle and tries to keep the id in line
  • The superego
    The part of the personality containing the conscience
    Contains the values and ideals of the society that we learn
    Operates on idealism
    Its aim is to inhibit the impulses of the id and to persuade the ego to strive for moral goals rather than realistic ones
Supporting content
Theoretical perspectives on sexuality - a summary of chapter 2 of Understanding human sexuality by Hyde and DeLamater

Theoretical perspectives on sexuality - a summary of chapter 2 of Understanding human sexuality by Hyde and DeLamater


Chapter 2
Theoretical perspectives on sexuality

Evolutionary perspectives


Sociobiology: the application of evolutionary biology to understanding the social behaviour of animals, including humans.
Sociobiologists try to understand why certain patterns of sexual behaviour have evolved in humans.

The sociobiologists argues that many of the characteristics we evaluate in judging attractiveness are indicative of the health and vigour of the individual.
These in turn are probably related to the person’s reproductive potential.
Thus, perhaps our concern with physical attractiveness is a product of evolution and natural selection.

Attractiveness is an indicator of health and is more important in mate selection in societies where more people are unhealthy.

From this viewpoint, hanging out, playing sports, getting engaged and similar customs are much like the courtship rituals of other species.
This courtship is an opportunity for each member of the prospective couple to assess each other’s fitness.

An offspring’s changes of survival are greatly increased if the parents bond emotionally and if the parents have propensity for attachment.
An emotional bond may also lead to more frequent sexual interaction. The pleasurable consequences of sex in turn will reinforce the bond.

Parental investment: the behaviour and resources invested in offspring to achieve the survival and reproductive success of their genetic offspring.

Many criticisms of sociobiology have been made

  • The biological determinism
  • It rests on an outmoded version of the evolutionary model that modern biologists consider naive
  • Sociobiologist assume that the central function of sex is reproduction, but this is not true today

Evolutionary psychology

Evolutionary psychology: the study of psychological mechanisms that have been shaped by natural selection.
If behaviours evolved in response to selection pressures, it is plausible that cognitive or emotional structures evolved in the same way.
A man who accurately judged whether a woman was healthy and fertile would be more successful in reproducing.

According to sexual strategies, females and males face different adaptive problems in short-term, or casual, mating and in long-term reproduction.
These differences lead to different strategies.

  • In short-term mating, a female may choose a partner who offers her immediate resources, such as food or money
  • In long-term mating, a female may choose a partner who appears to be able and willing to provide resources for the indefinite future
  • A male may choose a sexually available female for a short-term liaison, but avoid such females when looking for a long-term mate

According to the theory, females engage in intrasexual competition to access the males.

Criticisms to evolutionary psychology

  • Men and women are very similar in their stated mating preferences
    • Both prefer long-term strategies and few or no short-term partners
  • It assumes that every characteristic that we observe must have some adaptive significance
    In fact some human traits may be simply ‘design flaws’
  • Male strategies are not constant but change in response to personal characteristics and environmental contingencies
  • Critics question the data used to support much of the research

Psychological theories

Four major theories in psychology are relevant to sexuality

  • Psychoanalytic theory
  • Learning theory
  • Social exchange theory
  • Cognitive theory

Psychoanalytic theory

Sigmund Freud.
Psychoanalytic theory: a psychological theory, contains a basic assumption that part of human personality is unconscious.
Libido: in psychoanalytic theory, the term for the sex energy or sex drive.

Id, Ego, and Superego

Freud described the human personality as being divided in three major parts

  • The id
    The part of personality containing the libido
    The basic part of personality and is present at birth
    Basically operates on the pleasure principle
  • The ego
    The part of the personality that helps he person have realistic, rational interactions
    Operates on the reality principle and tries to keep the id in line
  • The superego
    The part of the personality containing the conscience
    Contains the values and ideals of the society that we learn
    Operates on idealism
    Its aim is to inhibit the impulses of the id and to persuade the ego to strive for moral goals rather than realistic ones

The id, ego, and superego develop sequentially.
The id contains the set of instincts present at birth.
The ego develops later, and the superego develops last.

Erogenous zones

Erogenous zones: areas of the body that are particularly sensitive to sexual stimulation.
Freud saw the libido as being focused in these zones.

Stages of psychosexual development

Freud believed that the child passes through a series of stages of development. In each stage a different erogenous zone is in focus.

  • Oral stage
    Lasts form birth to 1 year
    The child’s chief pleasure is derived from sucking and otherwise stimulating the lips and mouth.
  • Anal stage
    The second year of life
    The child’s interest is focused on elimination
  • Phallic stage
    From age 3 to age 5 or 6
    The boy’s interest is focused on his phallus (penis) and he derives great pleasure masturbating
    Oedipus complex or electra complex
  • Latency
    Until adolescence
    The sexual impulses are repressed or are in a quiescent state
    • Modern research shows that children do continue to engage in behaviour with sexual components during this period
  • Genital stage
    Sexual urges awaken and become more specifically genital.

People do not always mature from one stage to the next as they should.
Most adults have at least traces of earlier stages remaining in their personalities.

Evaluation of psychoanalytic theory

  • One of the major problems with psychoanalytic theory is that most of its concepts cannot be evaluated scientifically to see whether they are accurate.
  • Another criticism is that Freud derived his data almost exclusively from his work with patients who sought therapy from him.
    Thus his theory may provide a view not so much of the human personality as of disturbances in the human personality
  • It is criticised as a male-centred theory that may cause harm to women.
    It objects to Freud’s assumption that because women do not have a penis they are biologically inferior to men.
  • There is little to no physiological difference between Freud’s vaginal orgasm and his clitoral orgasm.
    Also, Freud’s assertion that vaginal orgasm is more mature is not supported by findings that most adult women experience orgasms as a result of clitoral stimulation
  • Many modern psychologists feel that Freud overemphasized the biological determinants of behaviour and instincts and that he gave insufficient recognition to the importance of the environment and learning

A good thing Freud did was taking sex out of the closet and bringing it to the attention of general public. He suggested that we could talk about it and that is was an appropriate topic for scientific research.

Learning theory

Much of human sexual behaviour is learned.

Classical conditioning

Classical conditioning: the learning process in which a previously neutral stimulus is repeatedly paired with an unconditioned stimulus that reflexively elicits and unconditioned response. Eventually the conditioned stimulus itself will evoke the response.

Sexual arousal can be classical conditioned.

Operant conditioning

Operant conditioning: the process of changing the frequency of a behaviour (the operant) by following it with positive reinforcement or punishment.

Sexual behaviour can be itself a positive reinforcer, but it can also be the behaviour that is rewarded or punished.
Consequences are most effective in shaping behaviour when they occur immediately after the behaviour.
Compared to rewards, punishments are not very effective in shaping behaviour.

Learning theorists state that sexual behaviour can be learned and changed at any time in one’s lifespan.

Behaviour modification

Behaviour modification: a set of operant conditioning techniques used to modify human behaviour.
These methods can be used to modify problematic sexual behaviours.
The behavioural therapist considers only the problem behaviour and how to modify it using learning-theory principles.

Social learning

Social learning is a more complex form of learning theory.
Based on principles of operant conditioning, but it also recognizes two other processes

  • Imitation
  • Identification

Once a behaviour is learned, the likelihood of its being performed depends on its consequences.
If the behaviour is not reinforced, the person will stop doing it.
Successful experiences with the behaviour over time will create sense of self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy: a sense of competence at performing an activity.

Social exchange theory

Social exchange theory: a theory, based on the principles of reinforcement, that assumes that people will choose actions that maximise rewards and minimize costs.

Social exchange theory views social relationships primarily as exchanges of goods and services among people.
People participate in relationships only if they find that the relationships provide professional outcomes.

Matching hypothesis: men and women will choose as mates people who match them on physical and social characteristics.
People who match will provide each other with similar rewards on dimensions such as attractiveness, social status, and wealth.

Social exchange theories have been criticised for applying ideas of rewards and costs to romantic relationships and that they downplay other motivations.

Cognitive theory

Cognition and sexuality

A basic assumption is that what we think influences what we feel.
To the cognitive psychologists, how we perceive and evaluate a sexual event makes all the difference in the world.

Gender schema theory

Schema: a general knowledge framework that a person has about a particular topic.
A schema organizes and guides perception.

It is Bem’s contention that all of us possess a gender schema: a cognitive structure comprising the set of attributes that we associate with males and females.
Our gender schema influences many everyday behaviours.

Critical theories

Social constructionists viewpoint calls to our attention the fact that behaviours and types of people are social constructions.

Feminist theory

Gender as status inequality

According to the theory, gender signals status in a culture, with men having greater status and power.


According to feminist analysis, women’s sexuality has been repressed and depressed, but rarely expressed.

Gender roles and socialization

Our culture has well defined roles for males and for females.
Feminist theories argue that we would be better off without gender roles, or at least that they need to be modified and made much more flexible.


Intersectionality: an approach that simultaneously considers the consequences of multiple group memberships, e.g., the intersection of gender and ethnicity.

Queer theory

Queer theory questions the social categorization of sexuality and gender.
It questions gender binary.

Heteronormativity: the belief that heterosexuality is the only pattern that is normal and natural.
Queer theory challenges this approach.

Sociological perspectives

Symbolic interaction theory

Symbolic interaction theory: a theory based on the premise that human nature and the social order are products of communication among people.
A person’s behaviour is constructed through his or her interaction with others.
People can communicate successfully with others only to the extent that they ascribe similar meanings to objects and people.
An object’s meaning for a person depends not on the properties of the object but on what a person might do with it.

Central to social interaction is the process of role taking, in which an individual imagines how he or she looks form the other person’s viewpoint.
By viewing the self and potential actions from the perspective of the other person, we are often able to anticipate what behaviour will enable us to achieve our goal.

Criticisms of this theory include the fact that it emphasizes rational, conscious thought, whereas the realm of sexuality emotions may be very important in many interactions.
Also, this perspective portrays humans as other-directed individuals, concerned primarily with meeting others’ standards.
We also don’t always consciously role take and communicate in an effort to achieve agreement.

Sexual scripts

The outcome of social influences is that each of us learns a set of sexual scripts.
The idea is that sexual behaviour is scripted much as a play in a theatre is.
According to this concept, little human sexual behaviour is spontaneous.
We have learned an elaborate script.
Scripts then, are plans that people carry around in their heads for what they are going to do. They are also devices for helping people remember what they have done in the past.

Each couple will enact a script in a unique way.
Scripts also tell us the meaning we should attach to a particular sexual event.

Sexual fields

Sexual interactions are also influenced by the social context in which they occur.

Sexual field: a site populated with people with erotic dispositions that they project on the space and each other, creating a system of sexual stratification.
People who enter a field are motivated by sexual desire, and they assess others who are present in terms of sexual desirability.
Each field will have specific objects of evaluation that are assessed by others present to create a hierarchy of desire.
Actors assess their position in the hierarchy, and their opportunities for intimacy and behaviour depend on their placement in the hierarchy.

Social institutions

Sociologists approach the study of sexuality with three basic assumptions

  • Every society regulates the sexuality of its members
  • The appropriateness or inappropriateness of a particular sexual behaviour depends upon the institutional context within which it occurs
  • Basic institutions of society affect the rules governing sexuality in that society

The economy

The nature and structure of the economy is a macro-level influence on sexuality.
A culture’s economy may have profound effect on patterns of sexuality, marriage, and childbearing.

The family

The family exerts a particularly important force on sexuality through socialization of children.


Physicians tell us what is healthy and what is not.
Medicalization of sexuality: the process by which certain sexual behaviours or conditions are defined in terms of health and sickness, and problematic experiences or practices are given to medical treatment.

The law

The law influences people’s sexual behaviours in a number of ways

  • It determines norms
  • They are the basis for the mechanisms of social control
  • It reflects the interest of the powerful, dominant groups within a society
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